Virgin Islands Schools Are Still Facing Challenges From Hurricanes Irma And Maria
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In the U.S. Virgin Islands, recovery is going slowly more than a year and a half after the territory was devastated by back-to-back hurricanes. Many businesses, including several large resorts, are still closed. Many homes still sport blue tarps on their roofs to keep the rain out. And after a year of shortened classes, schools are back on a full-day schedule. But as NPR's Greg Allen reports, students and teachers are facing major challenges.
GREG ALLEN, BYLINE: Four-hundred and fifty seventh and eighth-graders attend classes here at Addelita Cancryn Junior High on St. Thomas. Lisa Forde is the principal.
LISA FORDE: This is a quad. I call it The Quad.
ALLEN: The Quad is just an open space between modular classroom buildings. Cancryn Junior High School's old campus, a beautiful location overlooking the waterfront, was destroyed in Hurricanes Irma and Maria. Now students attend classes in modular buildings next to St. Thomas's largest high school. In fact, Cancryn's modular buildings sit on land that used to be the high school's track and its playing fields. Forde says that's had a big impact on both the high school and the junior high athletic programs.
FORDE: There's no softball. There's no basketball. The things that the children love, we can't provide that right now. A field to do baseball. There's no room to play.
ALLEN: When classes resumed after the hurricanes weeks later, without a campus of their own, Cancryn students shared space at the high school. Because so many buildings were damaged, many schools were forced to double up. For that entire school year, all students in the Virgin Islands were on half-day classes. When I asked whether the storms had an impact on her students, Forde says, absolutely. She says it's left students behind academically. And since the storms, teachers and counselors have also seen a marked increase in behavior problems.
ROLAND RIVIERE: There's a lot of displacement, a lot of loss.
ALLEN: Roland Riviere is a counselor who works with students elementary through high school-age. He says the kids he sees had to deal with a lot.
RIVIERE: Family members have moved away. Student might have a lot of friends, where now, my friend is no longer here. Home - they're no longer in their own home. They're living with others in an overcrowded environment.
ALLEN: Riviere says he's seeing an increase in adolescents who admit to cutting themselves, a sign, he believes, of the stress many are dealing with.
ALLEN: At Charlotte Amalie High School, it's lunchtime. Students are eating outside and in hallways because the school is overcrowded. Principal Alcede Edwards says a year and a half after the storms, many of the school's buildings still have extensive damage.
ALCEDE EDWARDS: This particular building, Building B, as you can see, we fenced it off. And we lost 30 classrooms.
ALLEN: Edwards says the loss of the labs especially hurt students in classes like advanced placement biology. It's hard to teach biology without functioning labs.
EDWARDS: So the kids are trying their best. The teachers are trying their best. But it's hard to prepare AP student biology...
ALLEN: That's the lab there?
EDWARDS: That's the lab.
ALLEN: It's got iron gates.
EDWARDS: Yeah. We lost that.
ALLEN: There are lots of other problems. The school still doesn't have reliable access to the Internet. Its playing fields are now taken up by Cancryn Junior High's modular buildings. Edwards says FEMA and local officials promised him the modular buildings would be gone and the school would get its playing fields back within three years. He's skeptical.
EDWARDS: You know, I've seen temporary two-year turn into 20 years temporary. So I don't see it happening.
ALLEN: Virgin Islands Governor Albert Bryan is an optimist. He believes if the federal government delivers on hundreds of millions of dollars in promised aid, much of the island's schools, hospital and housing can be rebuilt within three years. He's hoping there won't be a long-term impact on the territory's future, its children.
ALBERT BRYAN: One thing about children, they're very resilient and they adapt really quickly to the situation.
ALLEN: For students in the Virgin Islands, that means adapting to damaged schools without science labs, playing fields and other resources. Greg Allen, NPR News, St. Thomas, U.S. Virgin Islands.
[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: In a previous version of the headline, we mistakenly said that Hurricanes Irma and Michael hit the Virgin Islands. It was Hurricanes Irma and Maria that struck the islands.] Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.